Thursday, May 16, 2019

Puppy Dogs And The ABQ Crime Wave Plus Feeling Forgotten In The Bootheel 

Mayor Keller (Sorber, Journal)
ABQ Mayor Tim Keller found a welcome diversion from the crime epidemic this week in a visit to the Animal Welfare Department where he heard of the department's success in improving response time to calls. But escaping the crime wave that now shadows his administration is always a short reprieve--in this case an extremely short one.

It was last Friday that Keller held a major news conference to announce, among other things, that 50 state police officers would aid ABQ cops in patrolling the streets and that the city's Nob Hill area, where a UNM baseball player was recently shot to death, would receive more police attention. So what happens next? Well. . .

Hours after those announcements Nob Hill experienced one of its largest robberies in memory, with $30,000 worth of jewelry ripped off from the Lilly Barrack store.

Owner Jaime Leeds says she's fed up with the crime and is calling for a change. "We need more officers, the mayor needs to quit saying crime has dropped. I have been in this location for 14 years, but only within the last three has it been so bad. I can't keep up, small businesses can't thrive in this." Neighboring businesses in Nob Hill agree. They want the city to get more boots on the ground. "The bike patrol as it currently stands is insufficient," said Robert Steinberg, owner of Stone Mountain Bead Gallery. "That's a lot of territory for two guys. There should be eight guys, ten guys, a lot more than two. 

Much like former Mayor Berry's spin team, this Mayor's PR mavens have him doing all sorts of photo ops that have nothing to do with crime, hoping he will not be overwhelmed by the #1 issue. That's a losing battle until the brazen break-ins and murder are halted for good at places like Nob Hill. Even the puppy dogs know that.


Republicans who were hoping that former GOP State Rep. Jimmie Hall, defeated in an upset in 2018 by Dem Melanie Stansbury, might try for a comeback in 2020 will be disappointed. The 71 year old, who had held the ABQ NE Heights seat since 2005, told a group of R's recently he is out of politics and out of the state. He says he is moving to Oklahoma to spend more time with his grandchildren.

Freshman Stansbury has become a symbol of how the far reaches of ABQ's once deep red NE Heights have taken on a bluer hue. With Hall opting out of a retry, the odds improve that she takes a second term.


“New Mexico has the nation’s highest combined percentage of residents covered by Medicaid and Medicare,” said HSD Secretary David R. Scrase, M.D.


ABQ Attorney Jody Neal-Post, who wrote favorably here Wednesday of the constitutional amendment regarding bail, clarifies:

I did not support nor vote for the bail amendment. I felt the Brown court decision was sufficient and I do not prefer to constitutionalize every point of law. However, the bail amendment is our law now, and I do strongly support following the existing law.


A reader writes:

Greetings from the Bootheel, Joe.

Has Santa Fe forgotten about us? Rural communities are struggling with a lot of the same problems you are, but unlike with Albuquerque, nobody's paying attention. We're facing crime down here too, our unemployment rate is higher than it should be, we're losing important industries, and we get almost none of the aid and attention lavished on the two major cities. Where is our help? Politicians here have viewed rural communities the way Australians viewed the Outback: go in only if you must, only briefly, and never go alone. How do we get Santa Fe's attention? 

The last we looked State Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, probably the most powerful lawmaker in the legislature, represented the Bootheel area. What say you, John Arthur?

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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Bail Amendment Backers Hit Back; Defend Judges; Argue It's The DA's Ways Causing Criminals To Stay On The Street  

DA Torrez
More today on the intense debate over that constitutional amendment that reset bail standards and is being blamed by some for abetting the ABQ metro crime epidemic, including BernCO District Attorney Raul Torrez.

An anonymous reader/attorney wrote in Tuesday agreeing with the DA's argument and called the measure approved by voters in 2016 a "catch and release" program for criminals. We expressed some sympathy for that view and that brought in the email from other attorney/readers who disagreed vigorously.

Those concerned about the amendment, including the DA, have had plenty of media time to make their case so let's go to the rebuttals. The first is an anonymous offering from an attorney who practices in the BernCO district:

Joe, there is some context behind the application of the bail reform amendment in Bernalillo County that doesn't make it into the media narrative being driven by District Attorney Torrez.

First, Mr. Torrez has decided to make the issue political rather than crafting a practical approach to use pretrial detention to combat violent crime. For example, his office uses a set of rigid criteria to determine whether to file for preventative detention that is divorced from the reality of whether the defendant is actually dangerous.

By way of illustration, if you were stopped in Bernalillo County and you had 2 ounces of marijuana you purchased legally in Colorado and you happened to have a legal firearm, the DA's office would move to detain you pending trial despite the lack of criminal history or any allegation of violence. This is plainly ridiculous. Meanwhile, while a judge would probably order you released, you would sit in jail for up to 5 business days before the hearing. I suspect the policy is designed to provide political cover and shift the blame to the judiciary.

The policy has further effects that negatively impact the administration of justice and the overall crime rate. Mr. Torrez files so many of the motions that his office is often ill prepared for the hearings. His attorneys are forced to argue numerous petty motions that reduces the time they have to prepare for cases that might actually support a "dangerousness" finding. 

Let's look at the numbers. In 2018 the Second District Attorney's office filed 1,345 motions for pretrial detention. The success rate was an abysmal 39.3%. Looking deeper into the numbers, the office filed 481 cases that the Arnold Foundation Public Safety Assessment flagged as non-violent. To illustrate, 42 motions to detain were filed on a case where the underlying charge was possession of a controlled substance: a 4th degree felony.

The issue with pretrial detention only scratches the surface of the problems with the Second District Attorney's Office. He has implemented a strategy that virtually deprives his attorneys of any discretion in the disposition of their cases. Nearly all resolutions must be approved by a supervisor and often 2 supervisors. This creates a situation where cases are backlogged and burdening the attorneys with unworkable case loads they are unable to resolve because of the backlog. This has cascading effects where motion responses are not filed, interviews are not conducted, and judges are forced to dismiss cases.

The examples are legion but Mr. Torrez has shown that his political strategy and approach to crime is to shift blame and avoid any culpability. The media has become his unwitting enabler. Before we discuss changing the rules, Mr. Torrez should have to explain to the public why he has chosen to pursue a crime strategy that maximizes his political cover rather than the safety of the community.


Jody Neal-Post
ABQ defense attorney Jody Neal-Post goes long and deep on why the public may be confused as to whether the bail amendment is working for them or against them:

I am the attorney, along with co-counsel, Jeff Rein (currently the Albuquerque District Defender), who litigated State v. Walter Brown, which led to the ‘”bail amendment.” I was also the House Judiciary Committee attorney who did the legal analysis on the amendment at the legislative session following the Supreme Court decision in Brown.

I can tell you what is going on. The judges are following the law to require clear and convincing evidence of dangerousness to detain. The prosecutors in Albuquerque are simply dug in, refusing to bring that evidence before the court in an ill-advised power struggle with our judges.

. . . Take the tragic case of the slain UNM baseball player. The alleged suspect in that case is reported to have been indicted for shooting someone in the stomach before this newest allegation. Then the alleged suspect was arraigned in a shooting where no one was injured. Now the allegations in the latest tragedy, a third set of allegations.

In the alleged stomach shooting, the case was dismissed without prejudice for the District Attorney’s failure to meet court deadlines. The District Attorney could have re-indicted the very next day. He did not. Prosecutorial discretion as to what charges to bring and when is absolute. No judge or defense counsel can affect that decision-making. So, the District Attorney made his lawful decision not to prioritize that first shooting case via prosecution.

Then the second set of allegations. The State tries to detain the defendant but because they failed to maintain the first prosecution, the defendant on the 2nd set of charges has no ongoing conditions of release he can be alleged to have violated because he is not on any conditions, thanks to the dismissed initial case. . . Then, in the detention hearing on the second case, the District Attorney continued his pattern since the bail amendment went into effect--that he almost categorically refuses to put on live witness testimony in a detention hearing.

What the District Attorney does put on is the criminal complaint or indictment on paper. Both of those documents establish probable cause for the state to proceed to prosecute. Probable cause is akin to a 35% certainty of criminal wrongdoing. Our bail amendment requires clear and convincing evidence of dangerousness to detain, akin to a 75% or so certainty. Thirty-five percent simply never equals 75 percent. Period. The District Attorney must put on more proof, and in our present example, a significant part of that proof would have come from either a conviction on the first case or violation of conditions of release on the first case, which the District Attorney did not have because he failed to meet his deadlines and successfully prosecute that first case or failed to immediately re-indict it.

The Second Judicial District District Attorney litigated whether live witness testimony is required to succeed in a detention hearing. Our Supreme Court said “no,” in a trilogy of cases decided in January 2018. But the Court also said the clear and convincing evidentiary standard is high. The court let practitioners know that merely reiterating the indictment is 35% certainty and will rarely ever meet the clear and convincing standard of 75% certainty. The prosecutor proceeds at their own risk, hence the risk to the public every time prosecutors ignore the directives of the Supreme Court in detention hearings. . .

Our judges are doing their jobs. Criminal defense attorneys have almost no role in detention hearings, other than to say the District Attorney has not put on clear and convincing evidence when that is the case. Complete control of what evidence is put on in detention hearings rests in the absolute discretion of the prosecutor and the prosecutors are refusing to put the required evidence in their possession before the courts to establish clear and convincing evidence of dangerousness.

The bail amendment has never been tested to gauge its impact on public safety because of the power struggle the District Attorneys have taken against the judges in refusing to just put on the evidence and see what results. When the public demands the prosecutors participate as partners in the criminal justice system’s role in public safety, and the prosecutors give in and bring the courts the necessary evidence, then we will know if the bail amendment can meet the voters’ expectations in the detentions of the most dangerous defendants. Only then.

BernCo DA Torrez says he is going to go back to the legislature seeking remedies to issues he has with the courts. Whether all this enters the political arena will be determined by whether Torrez--who is expected to seek re-election--receives a primary challenge next June for the Democratic nomination. No Democrat or Republican has yet announced a 2020 DA candidacy.


State Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth was the chief sponsor of the bail amendment. He was asked on the Richard Eeds show on KTRC radio in Santa Fe about the criticism it was getting on the Tuesday blog. He defended the amendment, pointing out it had both Dem and GOP sponsors from ABQ. That full interview is here.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Judge Seats Get Hotter As ABQ Crime Wave Stokes Anger, Plus: APD Chief And Keller Aides Reap Big Pay Raises 

There was something missing at that high-profile news conference conducted by Mayor Tim Keller to announce even more crime fighting measures--there wasn't a judge in sight. Well, conflict of interest and that sorta thing, but. . .

It is the judges who are engaged in catch and release with much of the criminal element in part because of a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2016 that reset the standards for keeping someone behind bars and that are now a focal point of the crime discussion. One of our attorney readers picks up on the point:

What is not being discussed is the real story behind the "reform" of the bail system by a couple of legislative leaders and a Supreme Court justice. Well intended perhaps, but in application has created the catch and release system that criminals exploit and brings crime to us and backlogs the courts and prosecutors. Someday, somebody has to discuss how voters were led to passing a constitutional amendment that voters and the press were told was a crackdown on crime. It was the opposite, but progressive proponents cloaked the agenda by creating a fictitious diversion and the appearance of being tougher on crime.

With the ABQ metro soaked in a crime wave unlike anything seen in its modern history, it is obvious  to even those of us who mistakenly supported the measure that we were wrong--and for many of our fellow citizens dead wrong.

The legislature will be asked to revisit the issue. Whether that means asking voters to repeal the measure remains to be seen. but it's now clear that the amendment has had the opposite effect than anticipated.

The amendment is just one pice of the puzzle and while the Mayor and BernCo DA seem to be using it as a crutch to explain the failure to rein in crime, don't forget that the crime spike was well underway before the amendment took effect. The elected officials have the ultimate reasonability.


There are plenty of reasons to believe the dangerous crime will continue, not the least of which is that we have already been in an epidemic for several years. Another reason is so many teens joining gangs in the metro. Presumably many of them are making a lot of money dealing drugs. Given the troubled backgrounds of the young gangsters and the call center economy that has little appeal to them, it's yet another reason we may be in this for the very long haul--not withstanding placing 50 state troopers on the street and hiring a couple hundred more city cops.


Is raising the police chief's pay by $20,000 a year to $187,000 and giving hefty hikes to other top aides the right step when the violence epidemic rattles the city? The folks on Nob Hill, who say they have been getting the short end of the law enforcement stick, don't think so.

Republican Mayor Berry gave big raises to his staff while other city workers had their pay frozen for years because of a bad economy. Now Keller is hiking pay for Chief Geier and his other top aides in another case of bad timing. But then the APD PIO pulled down nearly $200,000 in one year by drawing questionable overtime and got away with no discipline. Nice work, if you can get it.

And the reason for giving top administrator Lawrence Rael a fat pay raise ($19,000)? The Mayor's office says it's afraid he will be lured away. Lawrence, lured away? The guy is in his 60's and wrapping up his career. Even by the standards of 11th floor spin, that is over the top.

At the upper echelon of City Hall it's happy days are here again. For Albuquerque, not so much.


A reader writes in response to the Monday blog on the northern congressional race:

You are correct that Plame might have the Anglo vote in Santa Fe in her corner but that's not nearly enough to even get close to winning to the Democratic nomination. She has zero connection to the Norteno vote. CD 3 is about connecting con la gente. The district is not for sale so money is not a guarantee of victory. I have never seen her at a Hispano or union event.

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Monday, May 13, 2019

Lujan Works To Stay Ahead Of The Progressive Curve; Rejects Corporate PAC Money, Plus: Northern Congress Race Gets National Treatment As Plame Makes It Official And Her Ex Offers An Endorsement 

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan is trying to stay ahead of the progressive curve as he wards off Democratic US Senate challenger Maggie Toulouse Oliver. Lujan has announced he will no longer accept corporate PAC money. That's one of three key issues for the Dem progressive wing and one MTO would like to use against him, but which now may be neutralized. Said Lujan:

My campaign. . . will not accept corporate PAC money. At the start of the last Congress, one of the first votes House Republicans took was on a bill designed to unravel protections for workers exposed to chemicals like beryllium. Beryllium is one of the chemicals that poisoned my father’s lungs and caused his cancer. Watching House Republicans vote against the health and safety needs of people like my father in order to placate special interests left me sick. . . This decision is at the core of the kind of campaign I’m running. A campaign run on New Mexican values that is built by the people, not corporations.

But MTO found a bit of wiggle room in the northern congressman's declaration, coming with this:

We’re excited to see the Congressman following Maggie’s lead and finally saying no to corporate PAC money. We think it would be a show of genuine commitment to these progressive values if the Congressman would return the nearly $200,000 he has already accepted from oil & gas, pharmaceutical companies, telecomm and other big corporations since the beginning of the year.

Lujan's rejection of corporate PAC money is not expected to hurt his fund-raising. With his national connections he is capable of raising from individuals the $3 million observers say the Senate primary will cost him.

The other two touchstones of the progressives are Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. Lujan has embraced the Green New Deal but he is not supporting a Medicare for All bill that would establish a single payer system and essentially eliminate the insurance companies. But he is advocating for a public option--a bill that would allow people to buy into state Medicaid programs. MTO has said she supports both Medicare for All and the Green New Deal.


Meanwhile, in the race to replace Lujan in his northern congressional seat, outed CIA spy Valerie Plame, as expected, has made her bid for the Dem nomination official, joining what is turning into a crowded field. But unlike the other hopefuls Plame's entry generated national publicity and in turn can be expected to generate national donations. How much is key.

Plame has a base of progressive Anglos in Santa Fe County where she lives but will need to reach out to Hispanic and Native Americans in the sprawling district. But so far she has one corner of the vote to herself. In a crowded primary that could be won with a low percentage of the overall vote, that is significant.

Now that she is a candidate Plame's critics have amped up their attacks. citing in particular a past tweet she made--and later apologized for--that was viewed as anti-Semitic:

In September 2017, she tweeted out an article from the anti-Semitic conspiracy site Unz, which was titled, "America's Jews Are Driving America's Wars." The story was rife with overt Jew hatred.

Plame later apologized for the tweet:

I'm not perfect and make mistakes. This was a doozy. All I can do is admit them, try to be better and read more history next time. Ugh.

Plame, 55, has not tweeted lately and her account at last check was not active.

The anti-Semitic meme could be an issue for Plame's fund-raising but won't directly impact Jewish votes in the district because there are few. However, the Jewish faith has deep roots there as a result of the Spanish Inquisition when Jews who publicly rejected their fate secretly clung to it. From  the NM Jewish Historical Society:

Some of these conversos accepted baptism sincerely, but others converted in name only. . . Life became very difficult for these crypto-Jews, or secret Jews. Ultimately, the Inquisition became established in the Spanish colonies, and sporadic campaigns against Mexican crypto-Jews in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries stimulated a migration of these people to the far northern frontier of Mexico, including New Mexico. Inquisition trial records show clearly that. . . crypto-Jews (could) be found among the New Mexico colonists in the mid-1600s. . . Today in New Mexico vestiges of this crypto-Jewish heritage can still be found among the Hispano community. 


While they are now divorced, the ex-husband of Plame, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson who she became famous with, harbors no ill-will toward his former spouse. In fact, in an email to us he endorses her candidacy:

I don’t do politics anymore but I do want to offer my wholehearted support and endorsement of Valerie Plame’s candidacy. Her love of New Mexico and her participation in local community activities is well known, as is her support of progressive causes. She is a natural leader who knows how to get things done, and with her prior time in Washington, she will hit the ground running on behalf of her constituents. She will be a worthy successor to Ben Ray.

Wilson, 69, and Plame are the parents of twin boys now in their late teens,

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